Curiosity and exploration

There are no “calculations” in that board, just reference equations. By NASA. http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/nasa-scientists-board-calculations-1961/

There are no “calculations” in that board, just reference equations. By NASA. http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/nasa-scientists-board-calculations-1961/

You have to love science sometimes. People still seem to miss the good old glory days, where major discoveries like DNA or Quantum Mechanics ruled the science news cycle. Nowadays, science moves in more incremental steps, particle by particle you may say, towards a goal that has not diminished: Understanding nature.

But we can go way back with this. Imagine people discovering fire. I have no idea how it happened. Perhaps a lightning struck something flammable, or volcanoes had a part in it. Quite probably it happened several times, too.

But ask yourself this: What does somebody who has witnessed the event do with the fire caused by a lightning or a lava flow – take the meat from the last kill out of the bag and cook a nice steak while the fire lasts?

There needs to be something more to it.

There needs to be someone making more discoveries. There needs to be someone understanding that cooked food is less likely to go foul – and probably tastes better, too. There needs to be someone curious enough to wonder how to get that fire into the cave to warm it up.

Curiosity. Now, there is a thought.

Most people are, in my opinion, not just curious, but inquisitive to the point of fault. As the kid of outsiders growing up in a little Southern German village, I know all about curiosity. It is a weird thought to think that the affairs of the neighbour are more interesting to most people than exploring the universe.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight. Source: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/display.cfm?IM_ID=2194

Artist’s concept of Voyager in flight. Source: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/display.cfm?IM_ID=2194

Do not understand me wrong. As indicated already, science today works a little different, too. Today, we test ideas we had beforehand. We try to see whether our ideas are right with the help of experiments. We do make discoveries, but none of these is like the discovery of fire.

That is a pity, isn’t it? Why do we no longer make discoveries on the same scale that we used to? Do we know everything there is to know?

I cannot even imagine believing that this is the case. Sure, there is a lot we do not know, but for as long as we stay where we are, we will not discover Fire again. And “here” is Earth – about the tiniest dot imaginable in this universe. So, we need to go to space.

Brian Cox recently stood on the TED stage and answered the following questions: Why do we need explorers? Why would we want to go to space?

I mean. Seriously?

I am curious about something: Why do I even feel the need to write this piece? Why do I believe Brian Cox’s answer will fall on deaf ears with those who could do something about it?

If there is one stupid question in this world, it is: Why do we need explorers?


11692568_786977204756800_3044591635946855095_nAlexander is a physicist, teacher and science communicator who is currently working at the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education at Andøya Space Center in Norway. Even though, in his case, work and play do overlap, the content on this webpage is entirely private. You can follow Alexander on Twitter, Facebook and Google +

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